What does it take to design an effective music website? To find out, Consequence of Sound called up designer Laci Jordan, whose portfolio of work includes content for Disney Imagineering, ABC, and Creative Artists Agency. During our chat, she shared her dos and don’ts, and told me why she recommends Squarespace, the all-in-one website builder that she used to create the eye-catching, easy-to-navigate websites for artists ranging from Sharon Van Etten to Jamila Woods.
DO treat your website as a home base
Jordan’s biggest piece of advice is also her simplest: even as social media and streaming platforms have made it easier than ever for fans to connect with music, artists should still invest the time and resources needed into developing a standalone website.
“Your fans need someplace to go,” she says. “I think it’s crucial to have some kind of home base where fans can get all of the information that they need to get, whether that’s new music or merch or tour tickets.”
While Jordan sees the advantages of driving engagement to a central hub rather than solely relying on a disparate web of accounts, it’s a lesson that hasn’t always sunk in with potential clients (even the really famous ones).
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t have a single platform,” she says. “They’ll have Soundcloud, or Apple Music, or whatever, but they won’t have that one place you can go and see everything that’s going on.”
DON’T forget your other web presences
Although she recognizes the need for a strong centralized website, Jordan also believes that the usefulness of that site is only as strong as its integration with other facets of the artist’s online life. That’s where Squarespace comes in. Jordan is quick to praise the platform for playing well with others.
“The compatibility is great with almost every platform,” she says. “I haven’t run across a platform that I haven’t been able to easily connect to Squarespace, whether that’s Apple or Spotify or Bandsintown or Eventbrite. Everything that musicians are going to need in terms of platform and social are easily integrated, and everything stays up to date.”
DO develop the artist’s visual brand through collaboration and investigation
For Jordan, a well-executed web design both encapsulates and enhances a client’s visual brand through the use of big, bold graphics. When it comes to musicians, though, she identifies an added challenge.
“With artists it changes a bit because you’re not just giving them a visual brand, you’re also giving their music that visual identity,” she says.
For the designer, that means using some investigative skills to translate sounds and feelings into memorable visuals. It also requires a willingness to collaborate, and turn an artist’s own visions and expectations into reality, as Jordan did during her time with Jamila Woods.
“With the Jamila site, it was all about pulling in color,” she says. “She was very inspired by old Jet magazines and creating graphics that had that line.”
DON’T be afraid of templates, but also don’t be afraid to design
Created with one of Squarespace’s versatile website templates, Woods’ site still feels bespoke and personal. Jordan credits the templates’ combination of depth and simplicity for allowing her to start with a strong base from which to apply her own expertise.
“I think that the templates that Squarespace offers are really good for musicians,” she says. “You can really create something that’s big and bold and visually entertaining and represents the artist. When you look at [Woods’] site, it feels so different because the graphics brought it to life.”
Jordan also notes that, when it comes to pushing the boundaries of your designs, you should always trust your instincts.
“Don’t be afraid to design, or even over-design. I know that sounds crazy, but I know I’ve seen a bunch of sites, especially for musicians, where it’s kind of like a formula. It’s very black and white, and there’s not a lot of personality, necessarily. The platform is there, and it’s easy to navigate, but a lot of people take the theme at face value.”
DO design with mobile in mind
While mobile internet usage surpassed desktop internet usage for the first time back in 2016, Jordan still runs into designers and artists who aren’t thinking with a mobile-first mindset.
“People are creating websites you can’t view at all, or in the same way, on phones or tablets,” she says.
She credits Squarespace for being ahead of the game, and for making it simple for artists to design a mobile-friendly site that facilitates everything from streaming music to buying merch to researching tour dates right from your device.
“That’s crucial,” she says.
DON’T design a site that’s difficult to update
When asked to identify the biggest pitfall for artists looking to build a website, Jordan doesn’t hesitate: lured in by the perceived value of a site built from the ground up, artists will hire a developer to produce a site that’s beautiful to look at but difficult to maintain.
“The artist definitely doesn’t realize that it’s damn near impossible for them or anyone on their team to keep that site going because you need to be fluent enough in some type of coding to keep it up,” she says, also noting that the situation often results in the artists shelling out more money for outside maintenance help.
“That’s one of the main reasons that I primarily design with Squarespace. It’s easy to edit and easy to update,” she says, also citing the platform’s web hosting services and customer care as additional perks.
“For an artist, when it comes to accessibility and being able to properly run your site, I recommend Squarespace.”
DO incorporate existing multimedia into your design
From album art to the songs themselves, musicians come with a pre-stocked toolbox of multimedia assets that can make their website design pop. Jordan favors taking an anything-goes approach to incorporating the artists’ other output into her designs.
“If they’re an artist, they probably have a music video,” she says, “so what if the site opens with a music video?”
It’s a bit of advice that’s evident in Jordan’s own work. If you scroll towards the News section of Jamila Woods’ homepage, you’ll be greeted with scenes from her video for “LSD” playing silently in the background. It’s an unobtrusive twist on the typical auto-play function, one that adds visual depth to the site while simultaneously showcasing a piece of Woods’ media ecosystem that fans might not have seen otherwise.
DON’T let coding intimidate you
One thing that shouldn’t stop you from starting a music website? Fear of coding.
“A lot of designers are scared of web design,” Jordan says. “They’re like ‘I’m not a web designer.’ And technically, I can code, but I don’t even like coding that much. It feels so out of date. It’s not something I’m into.”
“I know a lot of people who are like that, but are still interested in developing,” she says. “Being a web designer in 2018 doesn’t mean knowing all of the CSS and HTML and Java and whatever else. You can do it all on Squarespace and make it look different and professional.”
DO keep your portfolio fresh
In addition to offering great tips for artists looking to create a website, Jordan also has advice to designers looking to break into the world of music. Her main tip is one that she follows herself: always keep building your portfolio with relevant projects and designs, even if they’re ones that you’re just working on for fun.
“One self-challenge that I want to do, whenever time allows, is to create a single cover a day,” she says. “I’ll pick songs that I like, and think ‘if I had the opportunity to create a cover for it, this is what it would look like.’ That exercise can show people that I have the creative thinking skills and ability to design for this space. That way, if the opportunity comes up, it’s not a matter of ‘can we see if you can actually do this?’ but ‘you’ve shown that you can do this even if it’s through your personal projects.'”
DON’T be shy
Finally, Jordan has a message for all would-be designers: if you have someone you want to work with, show them.
“A lot of times people are waiting on an opportunity to work with somebody versus going out there and getting the opportunity,” she says. “If there are artists that you want to work with and you see room where you can bring value to what they’re doing, I would recommend designing what that could look like.”
“I know that the guy who designed some of Chance’s stuff did it though DMing somebody on Twitter,” she says. “You do have to investigate, but a lot of this information isn’t that hard to find.”
Ultimately, Jordan says, the success of opportunities often hinges on the hours of hard work and productivity leading up to them.
“Create what you want to see in the world, or what you want to do,” she says. “If you already have something, it’ll keep you more in the conversation than if you’re at home wishing and hoping.”
* This editorial was paid and sponsored by Squarespace.